A Garden Tour of England’s Cotswolds… by Peggy Mekemson

Jane and I sit among magnificent Hydrangeas at Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey). A taste of things to come.

Jane and I sit among magnificent Hydrangea at Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey). A taste of things to come.

While I was off touring the California coast north of San Francisco in August, my wife Peggy was on a garden tour of the Cotswolds in England with her sister Jane. She’s been eager to blog about her experience, but I had to finish my Olompali series first. Please join her as she shares the beautiful gardens and charming towns she visited over the next couple of weeks. —Curt

My sister, Jane Hagedorn, loves gardens and she loves England. I love my sister. So when Jane called and asked that I join her for a garden tour in the Cotswolds, of course, I said “yes.” I did little research other than reading the notes sent to us by the tour company and checking the weather in England in August. I was going into this with a completely open mind wondering what my impressions would be….and of course, what kind of photographs would reflect this journey of 12 gardens, several abbeys, a cathedral, and seven English villages. The camera was packed!

We extended our stay to join my brother John and his wife Frances for a few days in London. They had been traveling via auto throughout Europe for 5 months. We had some catching up to do. John also had been blogging about their adventures, a great read. Check it out: http://dallen.posthaven.com

When Curt suggested I put together 4-6 guest blogs, I delayed, delayed, delayed! How could I take 800 photos and select a mere 50-75 to share on the blogs? What would I say— Curt is the writer in this family! Nevertheless here you are, beginning with three blogs featuring a brief photo journey of gardens in the Cotswolds. Following the gardens I will feature the Abbeys and small, colorful towns of Cotswolds.

1st Blog: Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey, Camers in Old Sodbury, and Abbey House Garden aka Home of the Naked Gardeners in Malmesbury.

Let me start by noting that all of the gardens were gorgeous. The colors, the size of the flowers, the hedges, the orchards, the kitchen gardens, sculptures and water fountains— wow! It was really, really hard to limit myself to 15 photos per blog that Curt suggested. I quickly learned that gardens came in all shapes and sizes ranging from 1 acre to 5000 acres. They were attached to castles, farmhouses, abbeys, manors, courts, parks, and houses. Also, I love architecture, so I have included photos of the various residences.

Historically, what was once a medieval palace became a house and then a castle rebuilt between 1838-1878. Over 1000 acres, it is considered a parkland featuring lawns, cedars, and deciduous trees….and a few gardens.

Historically, what was once a medieval palace became a house and then a castle rebuilt between 1838-1878. Over 1000 acres, Highclere Castle is considered a parkland featuring lawns, cedars, and deciduous trees….and a few gardens.

First stop on the garden tour: Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey. Although its location is actually in Berkshire, it was on the way to the Cotswolds and….we had tickets! With the popularity of the PBS series Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle has become quite a challenge to visit. It is open to visitors only 60-70 days a year. It is privately owned and family still lives in part of the castle! Add to this the fact that August is also a heavy month for tourism— well, there were a lot of people wanting to share this experience.

Second stop: Camers in Old Sodbury (love the English names) was an absolute delight! It is an Elizabethan farmhouse and is part of the National Garden Scheme. That means it is open occasionally for the charity to raise money. We were greeted by the elderly couple who, with their son, own and manage the gardens. They now live in the converted outer building while the son lives in the farmhouse (not open to the public).

We wandered the 2 ½ acre garden which is part of the wooded 4 acres. It was amazing how much color and variety could be found!

We wandered the 2 ½ acre garden which is part of the wooded 4 acres. It was amazing how much color and variety could be found!

Add caption

As I soon discovered, hedges are everywhere…all sizes, shapes, and forms.

One of many intriguing garden walkways at Camers.

One of many intriguing garden walkways at Camers.

This got our attention. Jane provides perspective! There must be plenty of water in England.

This got our attention. Jane provides perspective! There must be plenty of water in England.

Brilliant colors galore. My last photo at Camers.

Brilliant colors galore. My last photo at Camers.

The final stop today is Malmesbury, the oldest inhabited town in England. Abbey House Gardens is also known as the Home of the Naked Gardeners, Ian and Barbara Pollard. (Their web-site claims clothing is optional on six Sundays during the year.) I couldn’t help but wonder what the monks who lived here in the 12th Century would have thought about going naked. The Pollards purchased the residence and abandoned 5.5-acre garden in 1994 and revitalized it, adding their own touches. I found their design both amusing and eclectic.

I found the Abbey Gardens eclectic and amusing.

I found the Abbey Gardens eclectic and amusing.

Ad caption

The gardens can be almost overwhelming when trying to capture the design, color, depth, lushness, and uniqueness. However, I had a good time trying!

Leaving the Monastery one is greeted by this sculpture at the entrance to Abbey House Gardens.

Leaving the 12th century abbey grounds,  one is greeted by this sculpture at the entrance to Abbey House Gardens.

Next blog: On to Hidcote Manor, Kiftsgate Court and Mismarden Park.

32 comments on “A Garden Tour of England’s Cotswolds… by Peggy Mekemson

    • Grin…..Curt probably had the right idea; that is how he convinced me to add more blogs. More blogs, more photos! But then there is the writing part…I was taken aback by the number of people wandering around Highclere. Every photo had people in it! No photos were allowed to be taken inside the castle, however. Peggy

  1. What a fabulous tour. I love English gardens, they are so lush! Those giant leaves – we have them in Vancouver. I’ve forgotten the name of the plant, but yes they need a lot of rain. We call them elephant ears, but even for an elephant they’re large!
    Alison

    • Everything in that garden was left to the imagination! Barbara Pollard greeted us and gave us a wonderful history and overview of their gardens. She was absolutely delightful and a lovely woman. We even met their pet turtle, apparently a very rare breed.

  2. From your pictures and descriptions, I could just about bypass Highclere and go straight to Camers and Malmesbury. I’m really smitten by the creativity of the Pollards — love that face shrub. Some people just have that art thing down pat. Glad you took the time to share your beautiful pictures on Curt’s blog. You’re really quite good at both writing and photography, you know!

    • Thank you for your kind words! I understand what you are saying. Actually we visited Bampton following our tour of Highclere, much more interesting to me. Bampton is the village where much of the Downton Abbey scenes were filmed: the wedding, shopping, and some of the other homes of the characters. I loved the story of one reason this village was chosen; there were no lines on the roads and few signs that needed to be covered up for filming! It was a village with character; photos on that later.

  3. Great photos. I’m sorry you got landed with one of the worst Augusts on record (dull or wet from start to finish). I’ve been to Malmesbury several times (and met the owners!). The last time was for a friend’s Book launch after hours. Th fish are very entertaining there too.

    • I am jealous! For the most part, we did luck out on downpours while walking. I have to admit, though, the rain did feel good. Many of the gardeners shared with us that the weather had impacted the gardens, we missed the peaks of blossoms and colors.

  4. A delight in gardens as shown in this post. Thank you Peggy. Our small back yard is also a delight to be in. Truly magic. The photo with the large leaves. I am sure it is not Rhubarb. What is it? Over here we have something that looks like that. It is called ‘oyster’plant.

    • It was not rhubarb. However, I am embarrassed to saw that I don’t know the official name. Another reader suggested it was an elephant ear. I like that!

      • Did more research on that plant. It looks very much like the umbrella leaf plant. Seemed appropriate for a rainy day!

  5. You are capturing our wonderful garden tour beautifully. What fun to relive it! Thank you for sharing this. Love from Big Sis

  6. A couple of years ago, Peggy and I visited Chatsworth along with Jane, and her husband Jim. Prior to that time, I had never really paid much attention to English gardens. The experience totally changed my perspective. I am having fun reliving Peggy’s garden experience with her— and watching her learn the ins and outs of WordPress. —Curt

  7. Wonderful tour, Peggy, and your photos are gorgeous. When we lived in London we relished our weekends and often headed to one of these beautiful gardens to “clear our heads of the city.” 🙂 I’m really looking forward to your next posts. All the best, Terri

  8. I’ve never seen an episode of Downton Abbey, and I’m not much for English gardens — at least, I didn’t think I was! But these are gorgeous, and I can only imagine the fleets of gardeners they employ. I have a hard enough time keeping up with a couple of schefflera and some cactus.

    The photos really are lovely. I’m looking forward to reading the next posts, and seeing what other delights you found.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s